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Forum Index > Rifles general discussion > 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear

45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear

17 Nov 2017
@ 03:12 pm (GMT)

Luke Schmidt

I'm interested in comparing the killing power of the 45-70 to the 338 Win Mag for hunting Brown Bears at 200 yards or less. I know these are rather different cartridges but they are both widely available here and they have similar recoil energy. I'm not particularly inclined to go to a bigger rifle because the kick of a lightweight .338 is plenty for me right now. A .375 in a heavy rifle maybe but I'm not super excited about the idea. I know the advantages of the 35 Whelen but rifles and ammo for it are not widely available here in Alaska.

My current "bear gun" for Alaska is a light (7.6 pound) Save 116. in 338 Winchester Magnum. Keep in mind it has a 20 inch barrel so velocity will be a bit less then average for the .338 WM.

If I read things correctly my 338 WM is not going to produce hydrostatic shock on a bear beyond 50 yards or so because the bullet quickly drops below 2600 fps. From Nathan's article and stories in Alaska it sounds like the .338 WM will still make a big hole but probably not an instant kill.

Since my .338 kicks like a mule and might not be the ideal bear gun anyway I'm looking at changing things up.

My options at this point are
A. Bring the .338 up to around 10 pounds by putting a heavier stock on it, adding a scope, and perhaps storing my extra ammo in a sleeve on the stock. This should give me a more accurate and comfortable rifle but realistically I'd probably still limit myself to 200 yards or less based on the ballistics and the fact that I don't want to risk a bad shot on a bear. But I'd still have a 300 yard rifle for caribou and moose.

B. The next option would be to trade the 338 for a Marlin 45-70 (probably with a synthetic or laminated stock for moisture resistance). I think I could maintain 1600 fps (cut off for hydrostatic shock) out to 100 or 150 yards with the 45-70 (depending on the exact load).

So any thoughts on whether the .338 or 45-70 would anchor a bear faster inside of 200 yards? Lets assume that the ideal load is used. I like Marlin's so I'd be happy to get another but if someone tells me my .338 will work just as fast I'll save the money and keep it.


17 Nov 2017
@ 04:04 pm (GMT)

Thomas Pavelka

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear

The 338 is NOT such a Punk round no matter the bullet used. I have used it on Moose at 50 meters and had to fire two more to put it down with proper hits and PROPER Bullets.

Brown Bears are bigger and tougher than any Moose. Myself, I always marvel at the Moron that sells out and moves to Alaska to live off the land with a 270 Rifle. Within a year the fool is dead. He shoots into a Fish fed Brown and he becomes a Treadwell wanna be.

The 45-70 is one of two animals. The Milk Sop loads in the 1300 fps persuasions with 405 grain bullets will destroy Deer. But Brown Bears are quite different. One needs to go with something like Buffalo Bore Hard Cast to make it shine.

Forget the 200 yard crap. Let the Bear come. When it is close enough you can see its eyes, see its breath on the wind, that, is when you open up. And rape the lever for all you are worth. If you do it right, the Bear will slide dead at your boot tip. That Sir, is the ultimate Adrenalin rush.

At one time Alaskan Guides used 458 Win Mag Bolts for backup. Then they went down to 375 H&H Bolts. These days they use Marlin Guide Guns in 45-70 with Hard Cast. I think they have said what works now:)

18 Nov 2017
@ 05:59 am (GMT)

Bryan Webster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
I do not disagree with your assessment of the .338 WInchester for brown bear.
That being said, I have shot more than one grizzly bear at very close quarters with a 200 grain .338 Win using a HOT-COR® RIFLE BULLET with no issue at all.

One elk jumped up and ran by me at 15 yards in brush and one shot went through both shoulders and he was found dead on the spot facing at right angles to where I had shot from.

It does not always end that way but for me it did. That being said, most times when I had to dispatch a large grizzly I used the .375 H&H with Speer bullet loads and never saw an issue at all over many killed. Some of these bear were big but nowhere near the size of many of the coastal brown bear, for which I personally would use a 458 Winchester bolt gun if it was coastal forests and range might be too close or out a bit.
18 Nov 2017
@ 06:02 am (GMT)

Bryan Webster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
By the way, my .375 was a Pre-1964 Winchester and weighed in at 9/3/4 pounds without the scope,rail, or sling.
18 Nov 2017
@ 08:05 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
Hi Luke, my studies of hydrostatic shock are observations to be taken into consideration but are are not an effect we can always rely on due to the variables of game weights and ranges versus bullet diameter and bullet design. Shot placement is also a major factor (and therefore drop and wind drift)

When using the .338 cal on lean game and using a tough bullet, the effect can be absent (solved via a softer bullet). On game weighing between 200 and 700lb, we may see hydrostatic shock above 2600fps. But as we increase body weights further (getting up and over 400kg), the effect diminishes. In other words, the effect comes and goes depending on each of these factors.

In the .458 cal, the same applies but with the wider frontal area, we may see the hydrostatic nervous effect at a much lower impact velocity than the .338 bore. But as we increase game weights, the effect diminishes at impact velocities at and below 2600fps. To make use of hydrostatic shock on truly heavy game weights in a reliable manner using a .458, I would suggest the Chey Tac necked up to .458 which is of course very impractical.

So what we are talking about is an effect that comes and goes unless our goal is to deliberately exploit it. Even then, we need to have realistic expectations and not expect instant poleax with every shot.

These factors aside, the one core aspect of our own species is curiosity. This is a fundamental dominating facet of human nature. Therefore, when I give advice, I have to try to take this into account. Your .338 may well cover most of your 'needs' but it may not be satisfying your current level of curiosity. I have been through this so many times now and while in some instances, a current rifle can be enhanced, I quite often find that the client / reader is simply wanting to move on and try something new. My only cautionary advice, is that if you have a good rifle that you trust, don't trade it. Wait until you have saved enough money for the next rifle, purchase it, then work on / with the new rifle until you have built trust in it. You can sell then sell the former rifle later if you choose, when you are fully ready to part with it. We must all take into consideration that there is no one best cartridge when our curious mind wants to explore many.

As for cartridge selection and experimentation, I would suggest the use of a cartridge that is what I would call forgiving, something that does the business, even when we get it wrong.

The .45/70 is great but its one problem is trajectory. Thomas gave an excellent description of its usage. In contrast to this, it can be a very frustrating cartridge to use if for example, an opportunity is presented across a river flat in failing light. The guide rifles are particularly annoying. Now all of a sudden the dinky 18" vented barrel, the tiny forend, heavy trigger and open sights or 1" objective are a pain in the butt if you are not 100% familiar with the system and its trajectory. A scoped bolt action can prove more versatile and anyone who says you cannot work a bolt fast when the going gets tough, has never actually been in a truly tough situation. The area to experiment with is stock design.

A 'forgiving' system also comes down to the type of bullet we use. One person may see great results with their .338 while another may see many failures simply due to bullet selection. The old Nosler Partition can as an example, be a very good bullet for moose and bear. If for example your 20" barrel only yields 2600fps at the muzzle with a 250gr Partition, you can at least be assured that the Partition will render a wide wound down to 2200fps on larger body weights via weight shedding / physical trauma. The Partition may not be the toughest bullet and can certainly hit the wall on game weighing over 1300lb but in this case, we can fully exploit its potential using a combination of mild impact velocities, a relatively high SD and gradual weight shedding as a means to cause high physical trauma which will hopefully be registered in the brain as critical, leading to rapid shut down.

Shot placement will of course always be a key factor. At the beginning of this hunting season, a Canadian asked me to suggest a moose load for his .338 WM. I suggested the very basic 250gr Partition but further to this, suggested that if he could keep shots well forwards, it would help with the speed of killing. I discussed the autonomic plexus (see game killing section) and the need to try and work angles accordingly if poleaxe was to be expected. A while later I received an email from this now very happy hunter. He did as suggested, kept his shots further forwards than normal and dropped his moose on the spot.

If you are having a hard time choosing between your .338 and the .45/70, I really do believe that the .375 (or .358) is the middle ground for exploration, the .375 Ruger being dead center. This cartridge is well worth investigating. This is what I would call a very forgiving cartridge. The key (and fun) is to build the rifle right, ensuring it has a good straight stock with a wide forend. Do this and you will be able to get away with a bit less weight.

Hope that helps.
18 Nov 2017
@ 02:25 pm (GMT)

Luke Schmidt

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
Thanks for the help guys. I'm not super attached to my .338. It was an impulse buy as I was moving up to Alaska.

Since I'm not super attached to the .338 I might grab a 375 Ruger or H&H if I see a good deal. Ruger Guide Guns in 375 are pretty common here and I like the idea of using the muzzle break for a precise site in then taking it off for actual hunting (I know the impact can change a bit so I'll check that). Nathan if you have suggestions on a replacement stock that won't break the bank I'd be all ears. Of course if I see a good deal on a 45-70 I'll probably try that too. Since I grew up with a 30-30 Marlin the lever action has a certain sentimental appeal.

Nathan as an interesting side note bears can be big but they aren't always as big as people make them out too be, especially away from the coast. I saw what was probably the biggest bear in Yellowstone Park a few years ago. "Old Scarface" was noticeably bigger than other bears I saw there (and I spent 4 summers in grizzly country in the northern Rockies before I moved to Alaska). I asked a park ranger how big Old Scarface was and he said he'd be about 590 pounds but only when he was fattened up for winter. This should have been an accurate weight because Old Scarface was tranquilized and collared by biologists. They might have actually weighed him but I don't remember. The ranger said when I saw him Scarface probably wasn't even 500 pounds. I took this to mean the average grizzly was probably closer to 300-400 pounds. Actually I'd be willing to bet that a majority aren't above 300 pounds if that. Closer to the coast bears can be a lot bigger. I'm skeptical of stories of bears that weigh 1600 pounds however. Assuming those stories are even all true they are probably about as common as 7 foot+ tall basketball players are among humans.

The fact that bear size is often exaggerated would explain how some of the old timers got away with what we would consider small guns. Back in the early 1900s grizzlies were wiped out of most of the western U.S. If you look at pictures of these hunters they often have 30-30 Winchesters or 30-40 Krags. If the bears they were shooting were almost all 400 pounds or less this is much less crazy. Obviously I'll stick with something a big bigger just to be on the safe side.
19 Nov 2017
@ 02:49 am (GMT)

Bryan Webster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
Alaska Peninsula brown bear - Wikipedia
The Alaska Peninsula brown bear is any member of the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) that lives in the coastal regions of southern Alaska. Alaska Peninsula brown bears are a very large brown bear subspecies, usually ranging in weight from 800 to 1,200 pounds (363 to 544 kg).

Most of interior Alaska grizzly bear as well as out BC interior ones will have an average weight of 500 to 600 pounds for an adult male, although I have weighed one at 660 pounds. Some of our BC coastal grizzly that feast on salmon may be larger but I have not seen actual weights for those animals for many years and cannot recall the numbers.

The southern Alaska Brown bear may be grizzly bear that have a nearly unlimited diet hence their heavier weights.

You can google Alaska Brown Bear and grizzly bear for a lot of this kind of info.
19 Nov 2017
@ 06:07 am (GMT)

Paul Leverman

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
19 Nov 2017
@ 06:13 am (GMT)

Paul Leverman

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
From another article, but just too Hollywood to put here. But they did have the rifle choices listed:

"With no time to think, much less discuss the sudden turn of events, the two men reacted out of pure instinct. They instantly shouldered their rifles, Nixon's a .30/06 loaded with 180-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws and Lacey's a .338 with 225-grain Nosler Partition bullets. The only word uttered was Nixon's short command: "Wait!" Water sprayed in all directions as the bear crashed through a pool in the creek. It ran straight for the officers, intent on eliminating its natural enemies at the top of the hill. Nixon's heart was in his throat as he frantically disengaged his rifle's safety and tried to settle jittery crosshairs on the jumbled swirl of brown barreling toward him. The normally deafening crack of the two rifles discharging was lost in the moment when the pair of officers simultaneously pulled the triggers."
19 Nov 2017
@ 09:11 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
No worries Luke. I have been monitoring bear weights of my readers for many years now, observing how each season pans out, what was used, speed of killing, necropsies and so forth. Without this ongoing support, my own research would be limited. These days I am quite lucky in that readers will ask me to suggest a bullet, after which they will test it over the season and then report back with highly detailed results. I have readers in far reaching locations testing combinations that I have suggested but would otherwise never get to test. I am very grateful to these folk for being willing to give my unusual load suggestions a try. The ability to connect with readers via the internet has been very useful but still, we have to be asking the right questions and we have to know what to look for. The investigation process has to be thorough.

What you say is quite true. To this end, it is better for me to speak primarily in terms of game weights than of species because of the differences in weights within a species. Pigs are the same, their weights and shield plating vary a good deal from region to region via adaption. Species is however an important consideration due to the obvious fact that some are dangerous versus others which are prone to flight and also weight distribution from species to species. Further to this, as forum member Gerry has pointed out, there is a big difference between a wet bear with waterlogged fur versus a dry bear - let alone seasonal weights.

All of this has to be taken into consideration when I evaluate cartridges and projectiles. But on top of this, I have to take the individual hunter into consideration including his personal interests (cartridges he may want to experiment with). One hunter for example, may want to see just how far he take the .30-06 versus another who simply wants maximum power. I have a number of friends and customers doing just fine with the .338. Another friend was forced to shoot a massive charging bear with a .270, making the final kill shot at just a few yards. He will now no longer carry anything smaller than a .338. If forum member Thomas moved to Alaska, he would want a .35 RUM because this is what currently interests him, a very simple conversion offering a great deal of power. Canadian forum member Bryan is interested in getting his rifle weight to recoil ratio balanced because he has to think of his knees and hips. I have one elderly reader who did most of his Canadian hunting with the .303 Savage over several decades but when I asked him how he rated it, he was fairly non committal and could not state whether he truly liked or disliked the cartridge. He said that kills were often quite slow but that he had 'gotten used to it'. A matter of perspective.

I personally prefer maximum power but only if I can actually utilize that power (both from the perspective of carry weight versus the hunting terrain and recoil from field positions versus accuracy). But generally speaking, I will utilize more power than less and I like to use a cartridge that works both in close and out to at least 300 yards without too much fuss.

Regarding the .375 Ruger:

You will find that the difference in POI between braked and unbraked is too wide for you to make use of such a method (Up to and over 12" at a direction of 1:30). Best to put this out of your mind. Also, you need to practice under full recoil, both for you and for load harmonics.

I would prefer to build rather than buy, I do not like many of the the rifles on the market now (see podcast 2, video learning section of this site). These days I would generally select an M700 or clone, HS Precision PST064 stock or PSV029 if you want a slimmer stock. In other words, a basic second hand Remington Sendero RUM, rebarreled to .375 with a resulting weight reduction. A factory .375 RUM rifle (again mated to an aftermarket stock) is also an option but these rifles are not that common on the U.S second hand market at present (I have other readers wanting the same). The Ruger or Howa actions would be good, if there were a similar stock available for these. The Howa can however require some mods to ensure it feeds fat cases and fat bullets well.

Have a look at the .338 Edge under full recoil in the below video. This is a stock made by a friend here in NZ, full scale production is still some way off. The current stocks are made to order, check for wait times if you are interested. I simply love this stock design.
19 Nov 2017
@ 09:20 am (GMT)

Bryan Webster

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
That was a good report on what happened Paul. I distinctly recall that one.

There are quite a number of larger male grizzly all along coastal BC and that weight while large may not be uncommen for long-lived bear with access to remote areas where they can feast on salmoneach year.

When I was radio collaring grizzly bear years ago, we tranqulized a large boar which had just killed and partially consumed a cow moose. There were myself, a co-worker and the pilot who came over to the bear to help fit the collar on it.
With all of use there we were unable to begin to roll him over onto his stomach, and once we brought the helicopter over with a net under it, we found it weighed more than the helicopter wanted to lift at that high elevation given a 30 mph wind so we nver did find out how much he weighed. Then as it turned out, the collar we borrowed from a coastal BC project would not even begin to fit around his neck. The thing was quite unique for us as we had never handled one even close to its size. We eventually rigged a collar out of aircraft cable, which worked fine for the two years following before we once more darted him and removed the collar.

So for certain, there are larger bear even in northeast BC, but ones like this are not the norm. I think that just like people and huge bull moose, some are larger than what we think should be the norm.
19 Nov 2017
@ 01:35 pm (GMT)

Paul Leverman

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
I too remember when it was going on, and then for years had forgotten about it. Then while working in the Smithers area this summer, I came across the plaque Fish and Wildlife erected near the area. (Canadians are funny. They won't commemorate an historical event, but they put up a monument to a bear. Go figure.) Reading it brought back some good memories and I just plain like a good bear story. Heck, I even like "The Revenant".

I've known guides that swear by 45-70s, 458 X 2s, 338s and even one that will only use his 338-06. It's all what you feel comfortable with, and knowing what will get the job done. One bear I know of was taken with the 30 RUM, not huge but bigger than I would want to face down (an 8x8).

But now, we don't have to worry about calibre choices any more because of people like Mariah Carey and the rest of the Hollyweirds, no more griz hunting.
People should just mind their own business.
21 Nov 2017
@ 07:01 pm (GMT)

Luke Schmidt

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
Paul thanks for the link. Its cool to see a bear actually weighed. My gut feeling has often been that bears get bigger as the story is told. I'm always tickled to see a big bear that was honestly big.

Our Wyoming/Montana grizzlies are probably smaller on average because of food scarcity more then genetics. There is no Salmon run and from what I gather their diet doesn't include a lot of meat. An interesting thing has been the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone. Bears are learning to follow wolf packs and steal there kills. Some believe as a result of this bears are spending less time in hibernation. It will be interesting to see if the average size of bears increases if they get more protein.

Thanks for the further insight on the rifle Nathan. At this point I'll probably keep my Savage and put a better stock on it (Hogue maybe, I'm poor). Realistically I will probably spend a lot more time hunting "Interior" grizzlies away from the coast (because of where I live). These bears don't get a lot of fish in their diet so everyone agrees they are smaller on average. With all that in mind the 338 Win Mag seems fine for the moment. I need an all around bolt gun for caribou and moose anyway. Eventually I'll probably buy a 45-70 of some type just for the heck of it. For me the main attraction of hunting a grizzly is he might hunt me back. If I shoot him at 300 yards it sort of defeats the purpose. On the other hand if things get hairy I like my chances with a quick handling 45-70 carbine.

I'll let you guys know what happens. One dream hunt trip for next fall involves packrafting with a friend of mine. As a non-resident he can't hunt. Anyway he's more excited about the idea of filming a bear chewing my face off.
23 Nov 2017
@ 02:26 pm (GMT)

Paul Leverman

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
It's kind of ironic about bears. When it's a story, like you said, they get huge. When you're shooting them, they suffer from what we call "ground shrinkage".

As to your stock, I've bought a couple of Boyds laminates over the years, and have never had a complaint with them. Reasonable quality, sometimes a little bit of inletting (mostly with sandpaper) and a good price. They now have all sorts of colour combinations that look good. The only one I had problems with was my fault. I thought I had ordered "unfinished" but it came with a gloss kind of plastic sealant/finish on it. I started to sand it off, and it was one of those jobs that you say to yourself, I shouldn't have done this. It was horrible, but it was my bad, not theirs.

Another calibre you might think about, if you're into wildcats, is the 458 x 2". It's a belted magnum, sized down from the original 458 WinMag , little more ooomph than a 45-70, and you can put it into a bolt action.
26 Nov 2017
@ 10:38 am (GMT)

Thomas Kitchen

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
Reading these comments make you think it's a real shame the 358 norma mag isn't a more common caliber.
Same with 458 win mag and 458 Lott.
If hand loading there's lot more options like 340 Weatherby, 35sta and of course the 35rum would be ideal.

Howa does do a factory 375 ruger in two different barrel lengths
that would be a cheap entry level option and from what I have heard they shoot well.
I'm not overly happy with how light they make them and like Nathan mentions the availability of after market stocks.
I would think the howa is on precision platforms radar but the wait might be a long time away yet.
15 Jan 2024
@ 02:43 am (GMT)

Jacob Christianson

Re: 45-70 vs. 338 Win Mag for Brown Bear
To be fair friends I grew up learning shot placement with a small calibre and moved up to heavier and more impressive rifles. I grew up in northern British Columbia (Canada) and my first 2 black bears I dropped with a .243 1 shot and no tracking necessary. My first trip hunting larger game ( bull moose LEH) I got my grandfathers .338 win mag and shot a massive bull moose maybe 50 meters away from me. It took 1 more shot to put it down, from this experience and now other big game hunting experiences I’ve had I learned to appreciate the smaller calibre rifles for there tumble and power at shorter ranges, most hunting here I always find myself less then 200 meters way from my target almost everytime, I bought a lever action 45-70 last year and dead dropped a grizzly last fall with 1 shot and not even a reason to chamber another round. I think in this argument it matters more about range then anything else


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